By April 14, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Biblical History: From David to Isaiah, c. 1000-700 BCE, Steven Feldman, COJS.

king davidExcept for perhaps Moses, there is no greater hero in the Bible than David. He is introduced as the lad who single handedly defeated the mighty Philistine giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17). After a bitter conflict between the supporters of King Saul and of David finally ended, the elders of Israel came to David at Hebron and anointed him king over the entire people (2 Samuel 5-3). David’s long rule—more than 40 years—is seen by the Bible as a golden age.

The crowning of David as king was a threat to the Philistines. They attacked David’s forces twice but were repulsed both times. After that, the Philistines were no longer a major military problem for David.

David next turned to capturing Jerusalem. The city, despite two centuries of Israelite settlement all around it, had remained a Canaanite stronghold. David, however, was able to conquer it when his general Joab climbed the city’s tsinnor, perhaps a watershaft that led into the city, and surprised Jerusalem’s inhabitants. After having ruled from Hebron for seven years, David moved his capital to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem emerged as not only David’s political capital, however; he turned the city into Israel’s religious capital as well. He brought the Ark of the Covenant—which had accompanied the Israelites during their desert wanderings and which had accompanied them into battle–to Jerusalem. David also made plans to build a temple in the city atop the threshing floor he purchased from Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24-18), but the actual construction of that building would be accomplished by his son and successor.

David had a personal guard that formed the core of his army. In keeping with his initial victory against Goliath, the Bible portrays David as a great military leader. Once the Philistines were no longer a menace, David expanded his state to the east. He defeated the three nations on the other side of the Jordan River—the Moabites, the Edomites and the Ammonites. As a result, David ruled an area from the Red Sea to the Euphrates River. His power over the further reaches of his empire, however, was likely minimal.

The nature of David’s rule is the subject of ongoing debate among historians today. Some see the Biblical description of him and his empire as reasonably reliable (those academics are sometimes called Biblical maximalists). Others, however, see him as a minor local chieftan, if they even accept that he lived (they are called Biblical minimalists). The minimalists had been bolstered until recent years by the fact that there had been no reference to David outside the Bible and by the lack of finds from tenth-century B.C.E. Jerusalem. That is no longer the case, however.

In the early 1990s, excavators discovered a ninth-century inscription that mentions the “House of David,” no doubt a reference to the David’s dynasty. Recent excavations in Jerusalem have also changed our understanding of the city in David’s time. A massive stone retaining wall, called the Stepped-Stone Structure, was repaired during David’s time and certainly supported a very significant building above it. In 2005, archaeologist Eilat Mazar discovered a very large building just upslope from the Stepped-Stone Structure and which dates to the tenth-century B.C.E. She suggests the building was David’s palace.

The question of who would succeed David became a bloody one. His oldest son, Amnon, was killed by Absalom, David’s third son; Absalom, in turn, was killed by Joab, David’s general, for leading a revolt against the king (2 Samuel 15-19). That left David’s fourth son, Adonijah, as the heir apparent. But David promised his wife Bathsheba, with whom he had had his famous affair years earlier, that her son Solomon would inherit the throne. David’s retinue united around David’s choice.

After David’s death, Solomon moved quickly to solidify his rule. At the first sign of revolt by Adonijah, Solomon had his rival and his supporters killed or exiled. As a result, soon after ascending to the throne, “The kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon” (1 Kings 2-46).

Solomon enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace. His only possible threat, Egypt, attacked and captured the city of Gezer. But Egypt was relatively weak at this time, and the pharaoh moved to mend relations with Solomon. Pharaoh gave Solomon his daughter in marriage and gave him Gezer as a dowry (1 Kings 3-1).

Solomon developed close commercial ties with Hiram, the king of Tyre, in Phoenicia, north of Israel. Phoenicia supplied timber and building expertise in exchange for wheat and olive oil. Solomon cemented his relationships with neighboring kingdoms through the customary way of the time—by marriage with various princesses. Solomon also strengthened his domestic administration, expanding his cabinet (which included several scribes) and reorganizing his kingdom into 12 administrative districts. These districts included the newly acquired Canaanite city-states of Dor, Megiddo and Beth-Shean.

Solomon undertook major public projects, including the building of a wall around Jerusalem and the fortification of Gezer, Hazor and Megiddo with impressive six-chambered gateways (1 Kings 9-15). These projects required money and manpower. In addition, Solomon’s subjects were required to support his extensive harem and his expanding army, which was equipped with horses and chariots.

The most impressive of Solomon’s building projects were the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which took seven years, and the building of his palace, which required 20 years to complete. The raw materials for the buildings themselves and for their elaborate decorations came from abroad; Hiram’s architects provided the technical expertise that made the projects possible.

Such major projects came at a high cost, in both money and forced labor. Not surprisingly, Solomon’s subjects began to chafe on the burdens they had to bear to support his elaborate rule. Interestingly, their complaints against him took the form of objections to his many foreign wives and to the foreign gods whose worship Solomon supported in order to mollify those wives (1 Kings 11-4-7).

Thanks to the peace and prosperity during Solomon’s reign, ancient Israel moved from a tribal society with a herding and small village economy to a centralized state with major, fortified cities defended by a mobile army and with an economy fed by international trade. Luxury items began to appear, and even everyday pottery was of a higher quality than previously. The population also grew and may have doubled in the century from Saul’s reign to Solomon’s death. Literacy became widespread. We have known for years that there was some literacy in ancient Israel, thanks to the Gezer Calendar, a tenth-century B.C.E. listing of what is to be done throughout the agricultural year. To the Gezer Calendar we can now add a tenth-century B.C.E. abcedary—a listing of the alphabet—discovered at Tel Zayit, in the southwest of Judah. This growth in literacy may have led in the tenth century to the earliest compilation of Israelite history and religion, which would form one of the major strands of the Bible (and which scholars refer to as the J strand).

But Solomon’s successes came at a price beyond the grumblings of his subjects about his foreign wives and their tax burdens. Solomon’s centralization of Israelite worship at the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem, in the heartland of Judah, no doubt chafed the people of the northern lands of Israel. With the death of Solomon, those tensions soon erupted into outright schism. The relatively brief era of the United Monarchy forged by David and Solomon was over.

Solomon’s son Rehoboam ascended to the throne of Judah in about 930 B.C.E. He knew, however, that his rule would not be accepted without question in the north. 1 Kings 12 records that the new monarch went to Shechem in order to rally the support of the northern tribal leaders to his reign. The northern tribes expressed to the young monarch the concerns they had had with his father- the burdensome taxes and labor required to conduct Solomon’s building projects.

Rehoboam might have been able to gain the support of the northerners, but instead of seeking to placate them he reacted to their concerns with scorn. “My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins,” he taunted (1 Kings 12-10), meaning that they could expect even harsher treatment from the young ruler than they had from Solomon. Rehoboam had followed the advice of his young contemporaries, evidently rash and inexperienced newcomers to matters of state. It proved a terrible miscalculation. When Rehoboam sent his representative to raise a workforce in the north, the northern tribes stoned the man to death. They were now in open revolt. Their mutiny coalesced around Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Jeroboam had been placed by Solomon to oversee the workers from the tribes of Ephraim and Manesseh, but for reasons not explained by the Bible Rehoboam led a small revolt against Solomon. Rather than risk arrest, Rehoboam fled to Egypt and found refuge with Pharaoh Sheshonk (called Shishak in the Bible). When the northern tribes revolted against Rehoboam, they selected Jeroboam as their leader.

The turmoil in Judah and Israel gave a newly resurgent Egypt an opportunity to reassert itself in Canaan and to open unfettered access for itself on the Via Maris, the coastal trade route. The ambitious Shishak invaded Canaan in the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign (about 925 B.C.E.). The attack is known from two sources—the Bible (in the Books of Kings and Chronicles) and from Shishak’s reliefs at the Great Temple of Amun in Thebes (modern Luxor). While the Biblical account makes it seem that Shishak’s primary target was Jerusalem and cities of Judah (which is an indication that the Biblical writer was from Judah), the pharaoh’s list of conquered sites makes it clear that he attacked cities in both the north and the south (more, in fact, in the north than in the south). Shishak was not, therefore, acting in support of Jeroboam, the man to whom he had formerly given sanctuary, but was acting in his own interests.

Shishak seems to have wreaked more destruction in the north than in the south. Rehoboam was able to have his cities spared thanks to a heavy tribute he paid to the pharaoh. 1 Kings 14-26 says that Rehoboam gave Shishak all the treasures from the Temple and the royal palace. The main cities in Judah were thus spared, but when Shishak returned to Judah after ravaging the north, he attacked a number of cities south of Judah, in the northern Negev.

Shishak laid the heaviest hand, though, on the cities of the newly formed northern kingdom of Israel. Archaeologists have noted two things about the cities Shishak attacked in the north; first, the tenth-century B.C.E. cities that were destroyed had been of high quality, giving support to Solomon’s reputation in the Bible as a great builder, and second, that those cities were quickly rebuilt. Shishak’s assault on Canaan did not have long-lasting consequences.

For the historian, Shishak’s invasion is extremely important. For the first time we have a good overlap between the Bible’s account of events, extrabiblical accounts (in this case, the Egyptian historical record) and the data uncovered by archaeologists, which confirms a wide pattern of destruction even at sites not found in Shishak’s list of conquered cities (which is no longer complete).

The Bible records that after Shishak’s invasion, Jereboam led the northern tribes from various locations, but it is far more concerned to note that he established cult centers at Dan and Bethel. For the Biblical writers, this act violated what they saw as a central principle- that worship of Yahweh take place only at the Temple in Jerusalem. Jereboam, for his part, may have feared that if the people of the northern tribes made annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem, their political allegiances might shift to his rival, Rehoboam.

The first years of the Divided Monarchy were bloody ones. Rehoboam died after 17 years on throne; we know little about the rule of his son, Abijam, other than that the Bible says he defeated Jeroboam in a major battle in the territory of Ephraim. In the north, Jeroboam enjoyed 22 years on the throne, but his successor, his son Nadab, was soon assassinated by one of his officers, Baasha son of Ahijah. Baasha brutally secured his rule by massacring the surviving members of Jeroboam’s family. Baasha’s rule, though long (about 23 years), was marked by frequent warfare between Israel and Judah.

These wars between the two kingdoms soon drew in players from the international arena. At one point, Baasha’s forces captured the fortress at Ramah, just north of Jerusalem, and imposed an embargo on Judah’s capital city. In response, the king of Judah, Asa, the grandson of Rehoboam, turned for help to Ben-Hadad, king of Aram-Damascus. Asa, in an echo of his grandfather’s payment to Pharaoh Shishak, offered much gold and silver from his palace treasury and from the Temple as inducement to Ben-Hadad to invade Israel. The bribe worked; Ben-Hadad attacked and Baasha was forced to lift the embargo against Jerusalem and retreat to his own territory.

Baasha had a bloody but just end. He was assassinated in his palace by an officer named Zimri, who then massacred Baasha’s surviving family (as Baasha had massacred Jeroboam’s family). Zimri’s rule did not last long, however; the army rallied around Omri, the head of the Israelite army, Zimri killed himself, and after a brief challenge Omri ascended to the throne.

Omri, though he is not the subject of much Biblical interest (the Biblical writers were much more concerned with his son Ahab), was a ruler of many accomplishments. Halfway through his 12-year reign, Omri moved the capital of the northern kingdom from Tirzah, from where Jeroboam ruled, to the new site of Samaria, near Shechem. The new capital was located along roads that led to, and therefore fostered trade with, Phoenicia. In fact, Omri’s rule, as well as the reign of his son, was marked by close economic and cultural ties between the Israelite kingdom and Tyre, the Phoenician capital. But under Omri’s rule, Israel gained the attention of kingdoms in addition to Phoenicia. Neo-Assyrian records refer to the lands of Bit Humri, the House (or Dynasty) of Omri.

Ties between Israel and Tyre were cemented by the marriage of Omri’s son Ahab to Jezebel, the daughter of King Ittobaal of Tyre. Few persons in the Bible are portrayed with as much contempt as Ahab and Jezebel (they are seen as massively dishonest and champions of a foreign deity), but the good relations between the two kingdoms benefited both nations- Israel stood at the juncture between east-west caravan routes from the Mediterranean and the King’s Highway, and the north-south route from the Gulf of Aqabah to Damascus.

Israel prospered under Omri. In addition to Phoenician pottery and Phoenician-style building materials, archaeologists excavating in northern Israel have uncovered many examples of carved ivory—a hallmark of Phoenician luxury. These recall “the ivory house” built by Ahab in Samaria (1 Kings 22-39) and “beds of ivory” mentioned by the prophet Amos in his oracles against the northern kingdom (Amos 6-4).

The prosperity enjoyed by the Israelite kingdom continued under Ahab, Omri’s son, who ruled from 872 to 851 B.C.E. During the reigns of both Omri and Ahab, Israel undertook major building projects. In Samaria, Ahab built an elaborate palace, and huge public structures have been uncovered in other important northern cities, particularly at Dan, Hazor, Jezreel and Megiddo.

To the Biblical writers, though, Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, are the epitome of evil rulers. They are depicted as cheating their subjects and as promoting the worship of the Phoenician God Baal in Israel. Their main adversary, in the pages of the Bible, is the great prophet Elijah.

Despite the scorn with which Bible treats Ahab and Jezebel, they maintained a largely peaceful and prosperous kingdom, even making peace with Jehoshaphat, who had succeeded his father Asa to the throne of Judah.

But the fate of the Israelite kingdom would more and more be determined by events to its north, especially by the growing power of Assyria. This kingdom in northern Mesopotamia, based at capitals at Calah and Nineveh, was the dominant power in the region during the ninth to seventh centuries B.C.E.

Assyria first made its mark under the leadership of Assurnasirpal II (884-859 B.C.E.), a brutal general who waged campaigns against the Aramean states, west into Syria and even as far west as the Mediterranean coast. Successful as he was, however, Assurnasirpal did not have much effect on Israel, much less the southern kingdom of Judah.

Shalmaneser III (859-824 B.C.E.), Assurnasirpal’s son and successor, had a much greater impact on the southern Levant than did his father. Shalmaneser instituted a policy of annual campaigns against neighboring lands, and soon many of the states in northern Syria were paying tribute to him. Other states formed alliance against him; the leaders of the coalition were Hadadezer of Damascus and Ahab of Israel. The two sides began confronting each other in 853 B.C.E According to the Assyrian annals, Hadadezer provided 1,200 chariots and horsemen and 20,000 soldiers to the effort, while Ahab contributed 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers. These battles raged annually, with Shalmaneser unable to subdue the coalition. When Hadadezer died in 845 B.C.E., his throne was usurped by Hazael. This event is the subject of 2 Kings 8-7-15, in which the prophet Elisha foretells the devastation Israel would suffer at the hands of Hazael.

Despite Shalmaneser’s repeated attacks on Hazael, particularly in the campaigns of 841 and 838 B.C.E., the Assyrians were unable to defeat their Syrian foe. Indeed, after 838, Hazael was able to expand his empire, particularly in southern Syria and then in Israel. Hazael’s ambitions in the south would soon bring him into direct bloody conflict with both the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah.

By this time, Ahab had passed from the scene, having died sometime after 853 B.C.E. He was briefly succeeded by his oldest son, Ahaziah, but the latter’s reign was short-lived; 2 Kings 1-2-17 records that he tumbled to his death from the balcony of his palace. Joram, a younger son of Ahab, assumed the throne in 850 B.C.E. and ruled until 841 B.C.E. Assyrian records from this time mention that the empire was still opposed by a 12-king coalition led by Damascus, and we assume Joram was one of those dozen rulers.

Joram rule in the north overlapped with the reign in Judah of Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat (Joram and Jehoram are variants of the same name; both mean “Yahweh is exalted”). Jehoram ruled from 846 to 841 B.C.E. As we have noted, Jehoshaphat had made peace between Judah and Israel. To cement good relations between the two kingdoms even further, Jehoshaphat had arranged to marry Jehoram to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Judah thus remained aligned with Israel during Jehoram’s rule. The alliance continued after Jehoram died in 841 B.C.E. and the succession to the throne by his son Ahaziah.

With Joram and Ahaziah in place as the kings of Israel and Judah, the stage was set for an international confrontation that would be followed by a bloody internal coup. Events began when Joram and Ahaziah attacked Hazael of Damascus at Ramoth-gilead, in Trans-Jordan (the battle is mentioned in 2 Kings 8-28). The attack was likely prompted by Hazael’s pressure against Israel in the preceding years, but it may have had a specifically economic cast- Ramoth-gilead sat alongside important trade routes. Hazael seems to have had the better of the fight, because Joram was wounded in the battle and had to retreat to Jezreel, where he was soon joined by his ally Ahaziah. The forces of Israel and Judah were left in the charge of an officer named Jehu. With Joram no longer present to lead his forces in battle, the Israelite soldiers proclaimed Jehu king. Jehu wasted no time in establishing himself as the unquestioned monarch. He went immediately to Jezreel, where he killed Joram and then hunted down Ahaziah after he had fled the city. In the time-honored fashion of such bloody coups, Jehu had the descendants of both toppled kings captured and then killed. Even Jezebel, Ahab’s widow and Israel’s queen mother, suffered an ignoble death- She was thrown from a window at her palace in Jezreel and her body was left in the street to be eaten by dogs. To the Biblical writers, Jezebel’s gruesome end had been foretold earlier in 1 Kings 21-23 by the prophet Elijah. Another Biblical prophet, Hosea referred to the violent coup and its aftermath as “the blood of Jezreel” (Hosea 1-4). The Bible sees Jehu’s actions as more than merely political or military—it describes them in religious terms. For the Bible, Jehu “wiped out Baal from Israel” (2 Kings 10-28).

Some scholars have suggested that Jehu, by destroying two members of the anti-Assyrian league, acted to win the favor of Assyria. Recently discovered evidence, however, suggest that Jehu was not acting for the benefit of Assyria but for Hazael of Damascus instead. The evidence comes from three surviving fragments of an inscription carved into a black basalt monument. Called the Tel Dan inscription, after the northern Israelite city where it was discovered in 1993 and 1994, the fragments suggest it was written by a victorious king of Aram-Damascus to commemorate a victory over Israel (this inscription is the same one mentioned earlier as bearing the phrase “House of David”). Two kings are said to have been killed; though their names are incomplete on the inscription, the only possible reconstruction seems to be Joram and Ahaziah. The only king of Damascus who was a contemporary of both kings is Hazael. He seems to be claiming credit not only for the defeat of both kings in battle, but also for deaths. What the Bible describes as an internal coup, the Tel Dan inscription sees as an act orchestrated by Hazael.

The Tel Dan inscription refers to Ahaziah as the king of the House of David, the first appearance outside the Bible of the name David, and confirms that the ruling house of Judah consisted of descendants of King David. Indeed, the Bible uses the term “House of David” 21 times to refer to the rulers of Judah.

If Jehu thought his coup against the kings of both Israel and Judah would result in a resurgent Israelite kingdom, he was wrong. 2 Kings 10-32-33 asserts that after the bloody events at Jezreel, “the Lord began to trim off parts of Israel.” The trimming began with the loss to Hazael of Israelite lands east of the Jordan. Scholars are unsure whether the loss of these lands was a friendly concession by Jehu to Hazael in gratitude for the latter’s political and military support, or a conquest by Hazael in response to what he perceived as an act of treachery against him by Jehu. In 841 B.C.E. Shalmaneser campaigned again against Damascus but was unable to capture the pesky Hazael. Instead, he marched to the Mediterranean coast where, in exchange for sparing their lands, Shalmaneser accepted tribute from several smaller kingdoms. Among those offering tribute to the mighty Assyrian ruler was Jehu of Israel; the act is commemorated on the famous Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, a 7-foot-tall black slab that shows on one of its registers the Assyrian king admiring a vessel that has been given to him as tribute while a figure kneels in front of him and kisses his feet, An inscription on the obelisk identifies the person performing obeisance as “Yaw, son of Omri.” Yaw is presumably Jehu, and he is identified as the son of Omri because he had assumed the throne of Israel, the Omride kingdom.

Jehu’s tribute to Shalmaneser no doubt angered Hazael, Assyria’s longtime foe. As it happened, for the remainder of the ninth century B.C.E. Assyria would cease to be a factor in the lands to its west and south. It was Hazael of Damascus who would assume the role of conqueror.

Jehu’s assassination of Ahaziah of Judah threw the southern kingdom into turmoil. Ahaziah’s mother Athaliah (the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel) assumed the throne. Needless to say, her first act as queen was to attempt to kill every surviving member of Judah’s royal family. She was foiled by Jehosheba, the sister of Ahaziah, who hid her infant nephew Jehoash, the son of Ahaziah, and put him in the care of the High Priest. After seven years of hiding in the Temple, the lad was proclaimed king and Athaliah was executed. The Biblical writers view Jehoash as a good ruler and credit him with ordering much-needed repairs to the Temple (in contrast, Athaliah seems to have maintained her family’s devotion to Baal; after her death, 2 Kings11-18 says “the house of Baal” in Jerusalem was destroyed).

Jehoash, like his counterpart to the north, had to deal with Hazael. In about 812 B.C.E. the king of Damascus marched south and conquered cities along the coast; he then turned east and threatened Jerusalem. Like many of his predecessors, Jehoash was able to save the city only by surrendering the gold in his palace and Temple treasuries to Hazael. For his part, Hazael now found himself in control of both the Via Maris, the trade route along the coast, and of the King’s Highway, the main route east of the Jordan.

Damascus enjoyed its prominent position in the region for about a quarter century, from roughly the 830s to 805 B.C.E. By the end of the ninth century, however, Assyria was once again on the rise, led by Adad-nirari III (811-783 B.C.E.). This development was bad for Damascus, which was a principal target of Assyrian might, but good for Israel, Judah and other smaller kingdoms that had been under the yoke of Damascus. 2 Kings 13 4-5 says that the Lord “saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Aram [Damascus] oppressed them. Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Arameans; and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly.” The passage seems to describe the political situation following Adad-nirari’s subjugation of Damascus. In the wake of those developments, the ruler of Israel at the time, Joash (802-787 B.C.E), defeated Damascus three times in battle and reconquered Israelite territory that had been lost to Hazael and his successors. Joash’s counterpart in Judah, Amaziah (801-783 B.C.E.), was similarly emboldened to attack Edom. Amaziah proved to be a rash leader; he goaded Joash of Israel, perhaps thinking that he could gain territory from Israel as well while Joash was pinned down by Damascus. In any event, Amaziah’s taunt proved to be badly misguided- Joash captured Amaziah while attacking Beth-Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, and then attacked the capital itself, destroying its defenses and looting the Temple and royal palace. Judah was now little more than a vassal of Israel.

The first half of the eighth century B.C.E. was a prosperous time for the kingdoms of both Israel and Judah. This was thanks to the relative weakness at the time of Damascus and Assyria. After humbling Damascus, Assyria was led by unimpressive rulers, who were forced to quell rebellions closer to home. Assyria would not again be a significant factor in either Israel or Judah until the middle of the century. Freed from these two major powers, Jereboam II, the son of Joash, restored the former glory of the Israelite kingdom under the Omrides, going so far as to expand his borders from the Orentes in Syria down to the Dead Sea (2 Kings 14-25).

The prosperity in Israel is confirmed by the prophet Amos, who excoriates the kingdom for its many religious and social failings but who also describes the wealth enjoyed by the ruling class. “Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,” the prophet warned, “and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” (Amos 6- 4-6).

The kingdom’s increased wealth was marked especially by the widespread use of carved ivory inlays, a material and a style of decoration popular in Phoenicia. For the prophet Amos, ivory is the perfect symbol of the excesses of the rich in Israel (see also Amos 3-15).

The control of trade routes led not only to short-term prosperity but also to longer-term developments. Excavations of sites dating to the first half of the eighth century B.C.E. have revealed not the founding of new cities but the rebuilding on a larger and better-defended scale of old ones. Not surprisingly, the building boom was accompanied by a population boom.

This period also saw an increase in literacy. A seal from this time, uncovered at Megiddo but now lost, is inscribed “Shema the servant of Jeroboam”; it likely belonged to an important royal official posted to Megiddo. A very large cache of inscribed potsherds, called the Samaria ostraca, was found near the palace of the royal capital in 1904 and dates to the 770s B.C.E.

Scholars have noted that many of the names mentioned in the Samaria ostraca contain part of the divine name Yahweh, but more than half again as many contain the Phoenician divine name Baal. These may have belonged to Phoenicians who were living in the kingdom (some of them, no doubt, artisans who were responsible for the ivory carvings), but these names may also indicate that “Baal” had come to be accepted in Israel as a name for Yahweh (Hosea 2-16 says, “On that day, says the Lord, you will call me ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal’”). In either case, the continued religious and cultural influence of Phoenicia on Israel is clear, which explains the antipathy felt by the Book of Kings against Jeroboam II. Indeed the Book accuses him of perpetuating “all the sins of Jeroboam of Nebat” (his namesake and the founder of the breakaway kingdom)—sins that Kings sees as eventually leading to the destruction of the kingdom.

The period was a prosperous one in Judah as well. Under Azariah (also called Uzziah), the kingdom fought successfully against the Philistines and tribes in Arabia and exerted its control in those areas by fortifying cities and military posts along trade routes. Judah was still a junior partner to Israel, so its expansion to the west and south also benefited the northern kingdom. 2 Chronicles 26-11-15 credits Azariah with greatly strengthening the army and with fortifying the towers of Jerusalem with machines that could hurl arrows and large stones against potential attackers. The very next passages, though (2 Chronicles 26-16-22), claim that the king usurped some of the prerogatives of the High Priest by bringing an offering to the Temple himself rather than having the priest do it. The king was punished with leprosy, which forced him to live apart from others. His son Jotham then ruled as co-regent. When Azariah died, his disease kept him from being buried in the main part of the royal cemetery; a plaque from the Herodian period suggests, however, that his body was later moved.

The peace and prosperity enjoyed by Israel and Judah in the first half of the eighth century B.C.E. led to the development of complex societies in both kingdoms. Each kingdom was a centralized monarchy, ruled from the capital cities of Samaria and Judah, respectively. Each kingdom also had significant other cities- Dan, Hazor and Megiddo in Israel and Beersheba and Lachish in Judah.

At the top of the social stratum were the king and his royal family, followed by a nobility that served as local rulers and administered regional centers. The great bulk of the population, however, lived off the land by farming or by maintaining flocks. In addition to growing grain, these agriculturalists also cultivated dates, pomegranates, grapes, figs and olives; in some areas, a surplus in grapes and olives led to a thriving export economy.

As two centuries before, society was organized around the bet ab, “the father’s house,” an extended family of perhaps three generations who inhabited a four-room house—the typical domestic structure of the time. These were two-story buildings with an open courtyard in the middle in which an extended family could live, prepare food, shelter animals and store supplies. A cluster of such houses allowed an even larger extended family to live near and support each other.

Matters of law were typically resolved within a village by local elders, though sometimes property disputes would require the intervention of royal officials; these more significant cases led at times to grumbling by the locals over what they saw as the high-handedness of the royal court, an unhappiness often captured by the prophets in their condemnations of a king’s abuses.

Public matters were the realm of male decision-making and action. Women were expected to bear and raise children and to manage daily household tasks. For legal and economic matters, women were dependent on their fathers or husbands; widowed and divorced women were therefore especially vulnerable, leading the Bible to call numerous times for their special care.

Eighth century B.C.E. society could thrive and reach this level of complexity thanks to an extended period of calm. That period of calm was in turn possible thanks to a dormant Assyrian empire. With the rise of Tiglath-pileser III to throne (745-727 B.C.E.), that dormancy came a swift end.

Tiglath-pileser would embark on three western campaigns, each of which would have an increasingly devastating impact on the kingdoms to the south, particularly Israel. The first, in 743 to 738 B.C.E., resulted in an expansion of Assyrian power to the west and south and led to the empire receiving tribute from Damascus and Israel. The ruler of Damascus at this time was a man named Rezin, while Israel was ruled by Menahem. Menahem had an especially bloody route to the kingship. After Jeroboam’s death, his son Zechariah became king; his rule, however, was cut short after about only six months by an assassin named Shalum son of Jabesh. Shalum had an even shorter reign—after only one month he was assassinated by Menahem, who went on to rule for more than a decade (747-738 B.C.E.),

Menahem’s long rule came at a price—paying tribute to Tiglath-pileser. 2 Kings 15-20 records, “Menahem exacted the money from Israel, that is, from all the wealthy, fifty shekels of silver from each one, to give to the king of Assyria.” In return, Tiglath-pileser withdrew from Israel and did not devastate the kingdom.

Menahem’s son Pekahiah succeeded to the throne but ruled only for two years. He was assassinated by Pekah, who led an anti-Assyrian group within the kingdom. It is likely that Pekah had the encouragement of Rezin of Damascus, the longtime seat of anti-Assyrian sentiment.

For much of this time, Judah was still ruled by Jotham, the coregent for his father, Azariah the leper. 2 Kings 15-32-38 and 2 Chronicles 27-3-4 credit Jotham with extensive construction and renovation work in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Judah. This work was likely not done out of concern for the still-distant Assyria; Judah was not one of the kingdoms that were forced to pay tribute but out of fears of an attack from the much closer Israel and Damascus.

Jotham was succeeded as king of Judah by Ahaz in 735 B.C.E. 2 Kings 16-5 asserts that Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Israel besieged Jerusalem but were unable to capture it. Historians believe that they may have been trying to force Ahaz to join them in an anti-Assyrian alliance. If that was indeed their motivation, they badly misjudged the situation; rather than joining the two kings, Jotham turned to Tiglath-pileser for help—help that came at a price, of course; in the time-honored way of such things, Jotham presented Tiglath-pileser with the gold and silver from the Jerusalem temple and royal palace. In return, Tiglath-pileser, now embarked on his second western campaign (734-732 B.C.E.), in which he would capture Damascus and exile its people and kill Rezin.

Tiglath-pileser’s second campaign significantly changed the political map of the region. Even before he defeated Damascus, the Assyrian monarch conquered Phoenician cities along the Mediterranean coast, Philistine cities further south and went as far as “the Wadi of Egypt” (Wadi el-Arish), the southern border of Palestine. While Damascus was still under siege, in 733 B.C.E., Tiglath-pileser turned his attention to Israel. He captured the lands of Naphtali (between modern Haifa and Tyre), upper Galilee and northern Transjordan. Following Assyrian policy, more than 13,000 Israelites were deported. The Israelite kingdom survived only when Hoshea son of Elah assassinated Pekah and pledged his loyalty to Tiglath-pileser.

The portion of Israel that survived the ravages of Tiglath-pileser’s campaign was little more than a rump state that consisted of only the highlands of Ephraim. Tiglath-pileser was now in control of the Via Maris, the trade route along the Mediterranean coast, and he had indirect control—thanks to the tribute paid to him by the local kingdoms–of the King’s Highway, the inland route that carried goods from Arabia to Syria and beyond.

The peaceful period between Israel and Assyria did not last long, however. Tiglath-pileser died in 727 B.C.E. and was succeeded by Shalmaneser V. The historical record and the Biblical account are incomplete, but it seems that Hoshea may have become involved with a revolt against Tyre that brought Shalmaneser west. Either on his way to or from Tyre, Shalmeneser, in about 725 B.C.E., marched against Israel and laid siege to Samaria, a siege that lasted for three years. Though Shalmaneser eventually captured Samaria in 722 B.C.E., he died a few months later.

His successor, Sargon II (722-705 B.C.E.) boasted of having captured Samaria, but both the Bible and the Babylonian Chronicle make clear that it was Shalmaneser who was responsible for that. What Sargon was responsible for, however, was the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria in 720 B.C.E. (the brief Biblical account, in 2 Kings 18-9-11, makes it seem that Shalmeneser was responsible for both the capture of Samaria and the exile of the Israelite kingdom’s inhabitants in 722 B.C.E.). Sargon was responding to a revolt against him in Gaza, an uprising that was quickly joined by Damascus and Samaria.

Sargon quelled the revolt and extended his rule to the border of Egypt, which for the first time was forced to pay tribute to Assyria.

Sargon inflicted on the Israelites a practice made infamous by Tiglath-pileser- the two-way relocation of conquered peoples. Vanquished regions in the west saw their inhabitants forcibly removed to the eastern parts of the Assyrian empire, and peoples from the east were exiled west. 2 Kings 17-6 records that the Israelites were “carried away to Assyria,” while 2 Kings 17-24 notes that peoples from Babylon and elsewhere in the east were sent to Samaria.

The 200-year history of the northern kingdom of Israel, which for a time was a regional power, thus came to an end. Its lands were now the Assyrian provinces of Dor, Gilead, Megiddo and Samaria. Its people soon disappeared from history and thereafter became known as the fabled Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

Post a Comment